The Big Test: India fail at Southampton, options for Old Trafford


It was the same old story all over again. Ishant Sharma, the hero of the Lords test, looked on dejectedly, while his teammates squandered all his hard work and repaid him with a Sisyphean task for the final Test—if it comes to that.

Sharma injured his ankle and will be sitting out the fourth Test as well.

His replacement, Pankaj Singh, proved to be an inadequate replacement. His time is past though he is a game trier.  A few chances of this bowling went a begging  but if Dhoni was brave and honest with himself, he would have admitted that Varun Aaron or Ishwar Pandey were better bets. You do not replace your main strike bowler with a medium-pace trundler.

Rohit Sharma’s entry into the squad in place of Stuart Binny upset the balance of the squad. Just four main bowlers and two-three part-time spinners is hardly the recipe for a side looking to seal the series.

The Indian skipper does not have a lot of trust in his top order and preferred to either go in with an extra batsman or a couple of all-rounders. This decision seemed sound in the first two tests in retrospect; it was the lower order that saved the team blushes in the first three innings.

It is time MS Dhoni had a hard look at his resources and what he’s trying to do with them.

Gautam Gambhir should come in. Shikhar Dhawan exits.

Gambhir has the gumption and the patience to play long innings. Bring to mind his effort at Napier, New Zealand in 2009.

Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli stay. Class will tell.

Rohit Sharma goes out. The talented Mumbaikar has even his most ardent fans tearing their hair out in frustration; I am but one amongst them. Duncan Fletcher should have a quiet word with the young man and tell him  that if this continues he will be touring a lot more—with the India ‘A’ side.

Dhoni continues and should back himself to the hilt about being aggressive with the bat.

At the start of the series, Dhoni said:

“I’ve realised that I have to be far more aggressive in my batting because I play much better that way than when I try to play like a proper batsman. It’s important to back your instincts and not think too much about the situation. I shouldn’t look to bat out time because there are other batsmen who can do that. If the ball is in my slot – whether it’s the first or the last – I should go for it.”

Ajinkya Rahane and Murali Vijay have done more than enough to silence all debate.

They were not the most heralded of the Indian bats when the series began. But they have quietly become the mainstays of the line-up.

Ravindra Jadeja, bat and moustache twirled, sits out. Ravichandra Ashwin comes in.

(How the selectors could overlook Amit Mishra and Praghyan Ojha for such an important series is anybody’s guess. Among the back-ups, are two wicket-keepers who may probably never get a game. It is effectively a 15-member squad.)

Varun Aaron and Ishwar Pandey lend much-needed support to Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami.

My side for Old Trafford:

Gautam Gambhir, Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni, R Ashwin, B Kumar, M Shami, V Aaron and I Pandey.

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India versus England: Ishant bounces out the Pommies


Australian cricketer Mitchell Johnson fielding...
Australian cricketer Mitchell Johnson fielding during a tour match against Northamptonshire during the 2009 Ashes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ishant Sharma at Adelaide Oval

Ishant Sharma at Adelaide Oval (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ishant Sharma came to the party and how! Since he made his debut in 2008, the lanky pacer has disappointed more often than not. So much so that Indian fans came to believe that his name was not Ishant but “I shan’t”.

But on a Monday afternoon, the Delhi native bent his back with the old ball and destroyed the much-vaunted lower half of an English side in rebuild mode. Joe Root and Moeen Ali may have hoped to lead England to a much needed morale-boosting victory, especially for beleaguered skipper Alistair Cook.

But it was not to be. Once Ishant Sharma started bouncing them, it was all over bar the shouting.

Were the English recalling the pummelling they received at the hands of a venomous Mitchell Johnson in the recent Ashes series down under? Or did they feel they could pull off a Ravindra Jadeja as well? Whatever the reasons, the spectators were bemused to find a procession of English batters making their way back to the pavilion. The English plan to counter-attack merely provided catching practice for the Indian fielders.

The spectacle prompted Bob Willis to remark:

I have seen fewer hookers in Soho on a Saturday night.

India had its first win at Lords in 28 years.

The similarities between MS Dhoni and Kapil Dev keep piling up eerily.

India go into the next three Tests leading 1-0. They will hope that they can emulate Kapil’s Devils of 1986 and clinch a memorable series win. This Indian side does not look very strong on paper, lacking experience at the highest level. But most members of the squad have put their hands up and performed when needed, unlike the side of 2011.

A captain is only as good as his team and , right now, Dhoni’s boys are making him look so much better than the recent past.

FIFA World Cup 2014: Germany triumph with Gotze wonder goal


Messi

Messi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the Second World War, Brazil were the only South American nation to send an expeditionary force of a little over 25,000 people to fight the Axis forces in Europe.

In 2014, it was a group of 23 German footballers who lay siege to Brazil over a period of a month, finally seizing victory and the World Cup dismissing all opposition especially the two Latin American colossi, Brazil and Argentina.

At last, reunified Germany had its hands on the coveted trophy and the celebrations continue.

Mario Gotze scored the winning goal against Argentina in the 113th minute in spectacular fashion. It was but fitting that the goal that sealed the final was a classic beauty. The exhilarating goal-fest of a tourney ended in stellar style.

The best team triumphed. Lionel Messi, arguably the best player in the world, was disconsolate despite the Golden Ball award.

Messi could not carry his early form into the knockout rounds and his strike partners were much too wayward.

Jubilation for Germany and its fans; a tragedy for Brazil and Argentina.

The world awaits the next edition of the World Cup in Russia.

London, Rio De Janeiro and Nottingham: A Tale of Tests in Three Cities


Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Novak Đoković vs Roger Federer on 201...

English: Novak Đoković vs Roger Federer on 2010 Rogers Cup Semifinal game in Toronto, Rexall Centre 1:2 (1:6, 6:3, 5:7) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Roger Federer is still a champion.

Flying under the radar, the 17-time Grand Slam winner fought tooth and nail taking the championship match into the final set last Sunday.

Novak Djokovic may have clinched his seventh Slam. But no guesses for who walked away with the plaudits and the kudos.

Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov are amongst heirs-in-waiting to the Big Four. But for now, they are just that.


Brazil’s shocking disintegration against Germany in the semi-final and the consequent shellacking had their fans in tears.

No consolation for them in the third place match either. Holland walked away with the honours—a meeting their coach Van Gaal derided as leaving one team feeling a loser despite having reached the semi-finals. His exact words:

“But the worst thing is, I believe, that chances are that you lose twice in a row. A tournament where you’ve played so marvellously well, that you go home as a loser just because you could possibly lose the last two matches. So, this has got nothing whatsoever to do with sports, not in my view.”

It’s Germany versus Argentina tonight in the final. Two former champions, two great gladiatorial sides.

Germany hold the edge on current form. But Argentina have Lionel Messi.

The Barca galactico was completely out of sorts in the quarters and the semis; the man-to-man marking rendering him ineffectual. Can he do a Maradona and take Argentina home?

Knock-out games are less about scoring and more about attrition. It’s about waiting and hoping that your opponent makes a mistake and then capitalising on it and drawing the shutters down.

That’s how Holland and Argentina played out their semi-final. It made for extremely boring viewing. Van Gaal repeated the mistakes of the 2010 final against Spain when Holland played hard and foul ruining any possibility of their moment in the sun. Hoping to win on penalties should be a strategy for relative minnows such as Costa Rica, not for the team that has dazzled the world with its brand of Total Football over the past four decades.


The first Test Match between India and England got underway this week at Trent Bridge.

The hosts presented the visitors an Indian wicket: flat and lifeless.

The match has already produced a record of sorts. The final wicket partnerships in the first innings produced two hundred-plus partnerships.

If Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami showed that the wicket held no devils, Joe Root and Jimmy Anderson rubbed in the curator Steven Birk’s face in it with their world record stand of 198—the highest ever in Test cricket.

Birks copped some criticism for the state of the wicket.

Birk said:

“We wanted to produce a pitch with pace, bounce and carry which hasn’t happened unfortunately. There’s quite a lot of moisture underneath but it’s a hard surface on top which is why it’s lacking pace. The moisture readings taken earlier in the week were quite high and we haven’t seen enough of the sun to really bake it out.”

Ian Botham’s take on the pitch:

“You might as well be playing in Chennai with this wicket.”

Jimmy Anderson had similar views:

“Two days out we could see the pitch was not going to have huge amount of pace in it. That is something you just got to try and put out of your mind. We are as frustrated as everyone else watching.”

Has the mandate to ensure matches last into the final day hastened the death of Test cricket? Indian fans stayed away—their ratio a paltry 10:90.

Draws occur in Tests all the time. It’s the nature of the result that makes all the difference to the enthusiasts.

Sharapova knows not her Tendulkar; Neymar’s back’s out


Football player Neymar

Football player Neymar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar (Photo credit: ali_pk)

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova (Photo credit: D. Piris)

Its the 6th day in July; the semi-final line-up for the FIFA World Cup’s finalised and Petra Kvitova reigns supreme at Wimbledon once more.

In Brazil, it’s Brazil versus Germany and Holland versus Argentina.

Will it be an all South American final or an all European one?

Or is it to be a fifty-fifty split? Only the soccer gods know for sure.

Neymar’s horrendous ouster from the World Cup—kneed from behind by his Colombian opponent Juan Camilo Zúñiga—left a sour taste in the mouth.

Is this the end of Brazil’s World Cup?

Earlier in the week, Indian trolls had a field day hurling online invectives at Maria Sharapova for her insouciant response, “I don’t know who Tendulkar is.”

Does it really matter? Did Sharapova need to know who the demi-god of India cricket is to win her five slams?

For that matter, does Tendulkar need to be aware of tennis heroes and heroines to score on the cricket field?

Or do you and I need to know who the President of India is to do our jobs? Not unless your job needs you to know this trivia. But I digress.

Do you think Tendulkar cares that the ruling diva of women’s tennis does not recognise him or his name or his lauded achievements? He will probably breathe a sigh of relief that there’s one less bothersome fan in the world.

Is Sharapova to blame for her ignorance? Does it not have to do with the insular sports coverage of Western media specifically in Russia and the US? But why blame these states? How many Test-playing countries are there? Barely a handful.

Should Maria worry? Only if she’s seeking to package, market and sell Sugarpova in India, right?

Till next week. Adios, for now.

FIFA World Cup 2014: Suarez exits and so do Uruguay, It’s Brazil versus Colombia


Luis Suarez celebrates his Gol to put Uruguay ...

Luis Suarez celebrates his Gol to put Uruguay 1 – Netherlands 0 – Take 2 | 110608-6714-jikatu (Photo credit: jikatu)

It’s official. The first quarter-final of the FIFA World Cup 2014 features 5-time winners Brazil and winsome Colombia.

Escobar’s ghost be damned—the mafia don, not the footballer!

The rest of the line-up will follow over the next three nights.

Suarez! Talk about Suarez!

What about Luis, the man-eater of Salto, Uruguay?

The man sure has bite in him; both in front of goal and while gorging on all things edible.

His cannibalistic tendencies came to the fore in the final league game against ItalyGiorgio Chiellini, the victim of no love bite.

“A small bite for Luis Suarez, a giant one for Liverpool”. Indeed!

Soccer took a backseat while off-field jibes at Suarez hogged the world headlines.

Perhaps, some semblance of order will be restored this week when play on the football field returns to centre-stage.

Uruguayans, meanwhile, will mourn their country’s ouster from the World Cup; their favourite son—both saviour and devourer.

Till then, have a great week!

World Cup 2014: Ten days of Spanish haze and English daze


English: Joseph Blatter announcing 2014 World ...
English: Joseph Blatter announcing 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil. 한국어: FIFA 회장인 제프 블래터가 2014년 FIFA 월드컵이 브라질에서 개최됨을 표시하고 있다. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
State Flag of Costa Rica
State Flag of Costa Rica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Messi
Messi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ten days into the soccer (or as the world prefers to term it, football) World Cup 2014 and it’s been a tale of upsets and surprises galore.

The Group of Death has witnessed sudden death for England; Costa Rica wielding the surgeon’s knife without actually playing their victims yet.

The defending champions, Spain, have done anything but defend; their citadel torn to shreds by the Dutch and the Chileans.

(I have not caught up with the games live; the interesting games are played early in the morning by Indian Standard Time (IST) but then there’s always the highlights capsule on Sony Six.  A time-saver indeed and less onerous on my beauty sleep and my health.)

What else?

France appear ominous and are the current favorites by anyone’s reckoning; the Dutch struggled against the Aussies. The socceroos were plain unlucky not to have a draw on their hands. They faded out of the tournaments gloriously indeed.

Costa Rica are the surprise of the tournament; can we anoint them ‘neo’ dark horses ahead of Belgium?

Argentina and Brazil have been less than impressive; Argentina faring slightly better with Messi performing the star turn on both occasions. Neymar is no Pele yet, is he?

That’s about all for now. Enjoy your World Cup! See you again, next week, maybe!

The 2014 FIFA World Cup logo is announced in J...
The 2014 FIFA World Cup logo is announced in Johannesburg during a ceremony with with CBF president Ricardo Texeira, Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and FIFA president Joseph Blatter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)